Future of Talent Institute Weekly - Issue #15

Cultural Fit - Just an Excuse Not to Hire Someone?

“The biggest problem is that while we invoke cultural fit as a reason to hire someone, it is far more common to use it to not hire someone.“ Katherine Klein


Is culture fit as important as we seem to think? A casual Google search brings up hundreds of articles espousing the benefits of culture fit and the need for candidates to fit that culture. People we hire that fit the culture are supposedly more productive and stay longer.

What research supports this and more significantly, what definition of cultural fit are we using?

The research is mostly anecdotal and not backed up with hard data. Data is hard to get because the definitions of culture and cultural fit are vague and inconsistent from company to company and there are sub-cultures within organizations that may be more important than the overall company culture. Articles and videos explain how those who fit a corporate culture are more productive and stay longer than those who do not. However, we do not know what definition was used to determine their fit. How did they compare these “good fit” people to the “bad fit” ones? How did the bad fit people get hired if they are screening for fit? There are too many unknowns to make the conclusions believable.

Also, defining culture is not as simple as it seems. Many corporations have a set of values which they espouse, and the belief is that these values create the culture. Therefore, the best candidates are those who are aligned with those values. But in reality, most organizations do not practice the values they espouse, and individual functions and departments within an organization may have even different values. Culture is far more than values. It is also the way people make decisions, the way people communicate, the habits and ways of thinking that have evolved.

Ed Schein, a professor at MIT, was a pioneer in creating an academic understanding of corporate culture and wrote one of the first books about it.

He defines culture as the accumulated learning of a person’s background, country, company, workgroup, and occupation. Corporate values are most importantly interpreted by how people act and how they get work done. Values vary from department to department and between professions. Finance people often have a different culture than engineers, for example.

It is not possible to have a straightforward definition of culture and then use it to screen candidates. Culture and cultural fit are too complex to be defined well or unearthed in an interview or through a test.

I am concerned that recruiters and hiring managers are using a simplistic definition of corporate culture and cultural fit to reinforce their own biases. Hiring managers, recruiters, and senior leaders have stereotypes about what makes a good candidate. They have beliefs about cultural background, education levels, schools people attended, grades achieved, and activities participated in. They may favor people from one organization over another.

At best, we pick out those few indicators that align with those that we already believe are important. When we say a candidate is not a fit, it is often a thinly disguised code for not hiring someone who does not fit our own bias.

By rejecting people who are different, or who do not think the same as we do, we run the danger of reducing the diversity of thought that creates change and drives innovation. We know that without diverse ideas and people who challenge the status quo organizations rarely are successful in navigating the uncertain future.

There are other questions as well about cultural fit. For example, how important is culture fit when hiring remote workers or workers in different countries? Is it important that temporary workers fit the culture?

Wouldn’t it perhaps be better to focus on finding people whose motivation, interests, and skills are a good match for the position offered and forget this pseudo-psychology?

Cultural Fit: A Qualification for Hiring -- or a Disguise for Bias?

Cultural fit plays a legitimate role in the workplace. But how can managers keep it from “going rogue”?

Culture Fundamentals - 9 Important Insights from Edgar Schein

Insights and a video interview with Ed Schein.

Why Hiring for Cultural Fit Might Not Be The Right Strategy

Is hiring for cultural fit always the best strategy? Some say it can harm diversity and inclusion in the long run. Learn what it means for recruiting.

Does culture fit matter for a remote workforce?

How much does culture fit really matter when most (if not all) of your team works remotely and the future of work is becoming a gig economy?

Value Diversity? Stop Hiring for Culture Fit – Astrid Andrea Martinez – Medium

If you’ve interviewed with a company or worked with a recruiter recently, you’ve probably come across the concept of hiring for culture fit. Hiring for culture fit has become “established as a…

Why We Need to Rethink Hiring for Culture Fit | Talent on Tap (Video)

According to Pat Wadors, LinkedIn’s Head of HR, the term “culture fit” is dangerous. Why? Because assessing for culture fit can often lead to a “hire like me…

About This Newsletter

Hand curated articles, videos, podcasts, and other media on the future of work, talent, recruitment, and learning. If you find this useful, please share on Twitter. You can always reach me at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.